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Lawmakers push new domestic violence bills

Mike Mosedale//February 28, 2014

Lawmakers push new domestic violence bills

Mike Mosedale//February 28, 2014

In response to a sharp rise in domestic abuse-related homicides, lawmakers are mulling a bill that would give police more time to make arrests in misdemeanor domestic assault cases without first obtaining a warrant. A separate measure would provide victims with “location information” on convicted batterers when they are released from jail or prison.

The two bills — introduced at the House Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee on Wednesday — are the product of five “convening sessions” organized by the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women in the wake of a series of headline-grabbing domestic abuse-related homicides last year.

By the end of 2013, according to the MCBW annual Femicide Report, there were at least 37 such homicides in Minnesota, more than twice the number in 2012.

“When you see this huge spike in domestic homicides, it should propel all of us to ask, ‘Are we doing enough? What more needs to be done?’ There are no easy answers to those questions,” committee chair Michael Paymar, DFL-St. Paul, said in an interview after the hearing.

Paymar said he was distressed by the increased number of deaths, particularly given national trends that show overall declining rates of domestic violence. The emphasis on improving police’s ability to make misdemeanor arrests is seen as critical, because domestic violence often escalates.

Rebekah Moses, policy director for the MCBW, said the two bills were winnowed from 23 policy ideas developed in meetings with law enforcement, legislators and victim advocates during the summer and fall. The goal is “to hold perpetrators accountable before they murder someone,” said Moses, who called the proposed legislation “proactive” and “life-saving.”

Arrest rule change proposed

The first bill, HF 2141, authored by Rep. Paul Rosenthal, DFL-Edina, would remove the 24-hour time limit under which police can make arrests in non-felony level domestic assaults without first obtaining a court warrant. That exemption would also apply to non-felony violations of court orders.

In 2009, the Legislature raised the time limit from 12 hours to 24 hours. That came in response to complaints that the shorter limit didn’t give police enough time to track down abusers, especially those repeat offenders savvy enough to realize they could evade immediate arrest by fleeing the scene and waiting out the clock.

“It really did work for a little a while and had a great effect,” Rosenthal of the 24-hour limit. “But as we know, people change. And once they understand the rules and the ramifications, they tend to hide longer.”

Rosenthal said the 24-hour exemption to the warrant requirement “is no longer having the effect that we hoped.” Rep. John Ward, DFL-Baxter, agreed that a change is needed, saying “perpetrators know the system and they play the system.”

Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, said he, too, favored extending the time-limit, but that it should not be “in perpetuity.” He proposed a 72-hour limit — a measure to which Rosenthal said he was amenable.

Two members of the public testified in opposition to any time extension for warrantless arrests. Michael Jones, the director of the Minnesota Parent/Child Advocacy Center in north Minneapolis, said domestic abuse has a disproportionate effect on the African-American community but “at some time, we have to balance the rights of the accused with the rights of the victim.”

Bill Ronan, a self-described clinical social worker and hypnotherapist from Hopkins, was more vociferous. Ronan said that extending the time limit would effectively empower people who make false accusations. “The domestic violence industry is like graduate school for psychopaths and sociopaths,” he told lawmakers.

In a telephone interview later, Ronan said he was motivated to testify because his former spouse falsely accused him of abuse, which led to expensive and lengthy legal travails and jaundiced his view of the courts. “I feel obligated to inform people about what’s happening,” he said.

Notification bill

The Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee also took testimony on a bill that would provide domestic abuse victims with information about the whereabouts of convicted batterers upon their release from custody. Under the measure, HF 2142, authored by Rep. Barb Yarusso, DFL-Shoreview, victims would not be provided with a street address, only the ZIP code, and the request for information could be denied for public safety reasons.

Paymar said he expects the House will take up some additional domestic abuse-related legislation this session, although that was not broached at Wednesday’s hearing.

The most notable prospect: an effort to codify on a state level the federal Lautenberg Amendment. That law, enacted by Congress in 1996, prohibits people from possessing guns if they have been convicted of misdemeanor level domestic abuse or are subject to a civil order of protection with a finding of domestic abuse.

Nationally, advocates for domestic abuse victims have long complained that enforcement of the law is spotty at best, especially in instances involving protective orders.

“If you look at the research, the highest risk for lethality for a battered woman is an offender’s access to firearms,” Paymar said. “Presently, our courts have not responded to that issue very well and neither has law enforcement.”

Paymar said the proposal is still in the drafting stages but added that several lawmakers have expressed interest and he expects that a bill will emerge this session or next. “I don’t think it will raise Second Amendment issues, because this would just create conformity with a federal law that already exists,” he said.

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